Migraines are a possible symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In this article, we’ll review reasons why PCOS may cause migraines and provide actionable tips to reduce migraine occurrences by treating the root causes of both of these conditions.
Migraines and PCOS
A migraine is a severe headache that can cause throbbing, nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. These symptoms can last a few hours up to a few days.
An estimated 11 percent of the world’s population suffers from migraines (1
). However, women are three to four times more likely to suffer from migraines than men, and sex hormones are believed to be responsible for this discrepancy (2
). While genetic factors absolutely contribute to migraine development, let’s review some of the most common causes of migraines within the context of PCOS.
Estrogen to Progesterone Ratio
The balance of estrogen and progesterone in your body may affect migraine development. Estrogen is one of the main sex hormones in women and regulates puberty, your menstrual cycle, and bone health. In a normal cycle, your estrogen levels slowly rise in the first half of your menstrual cycle and peak prior to ovulation. If your ovary releases an egg, estrogen levels drop and progesterone takes over as the dominant sex hormone. Progesterone is only released after ovulation and is known for its calming, anti-anxiety
benefits. A large majority of women with migraines experience these attacks a few days before or after their period bleed. This is known as a menstrual migraine and is suspected to be related to the decrease in hormone levels during this time. Estrogen causes your arteries to dilate. Progesterone has different effects on your arteries and helps regulate how your arteries constrict. So, an imbalance of estrogen levels in relation to progesterone may trigger migraines (1
Low Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is known as the “happy” brain chemical. It is believed to act as a mood stabilizer among many other important functions. Low serotonin levels and reduced serotonin production in the brain may also trigger migraines (3
). Some studies suggest women with PCOS may have lower levels of serotonin (1
). Interestingly, estrogen is necessary for the production of serotonin. So, low levels of both estrogen and serotonin may trigger migraine development.
This occurs when your cells become resistant to insulin, a hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, people with insulin resistance may be at a higher risk of developing migraines due to overstimulation of insulin receptors in the brain (1
How to Treat Migraines Related to PCOS
Migraines are a complex topic with various methods of treatment. However, if you have both PCOS and migraines, there are a few interventions you can implement that will not only address several root causes of your PCOS, but may also reduce migraine occurrences.
Balance Blood Sugar Levels
Overtime, high blood sugar levels can cause insulin resistance and even type 2 diabetes. As we mentioned above, insulin resistance is common in PCOS and may trigger migraines. Plus, insulin resistance can cause hormone imbalances leading to irregular periods. You can reduce insulin resistance by using our PFC Balance Method. By following a simple formula of protein + fat + carbohydrates (PFC) at every meal and snack, you can properly balance your blood sugar levels. Aim to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens, bell peppers, and more. Then, fill one quarter of your plate with fiber-rich carbs, and the other quarter with high-quality protein. Finally, top off your plate with 1 to 2 tablespoons of healthy fat.
Decrease Stress and Neck Tension
According to the American Headache Society, four out of five people with migraines report stress as a migraine trigger. Unfortunately, stress can also worsen inflammation, insulin resistance, and disrupt your menstrual cycle. We know stress is a part of everyday life. However, it is possible to improve how your body responds to stressful situations. We recommend implementing at least one stress management activity into your daily routine each day, even if it is only five minutes! Journaling, deep breathing, stretching, walking, and meditation are a few examples of activities proven to reduce stress levels within your body.
Improve Sleep Quality
Sleep disorders are among the most common causes of migraine headaches during the day. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing stops repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times, throughout the night. Individuals with PCOS are almost ten times more likely to have sleep apnea compared to women without PCOS (6
). Common symptoms of sleep apnea may include loud snoring, restless sleep, sleepiness during the day, and morning headaches. If you have PCOS and suffer from any of these symptoms, we encourage you to speak with your doctor to see if they recommend a referral for a sleep study.
Furthermore, aim to implement healthy sleep habits by practicing a nightly bedtime routine, avoiding screens within an hour of bedtime, and sleeping in a cool and dark room. Avoid caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime as these can disrupt sleep quality and onset. Magnesium is a helpful supplement to take at bedtime to promote calming and restful sleep.
Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that plays a crucial role in hormonal balance. For example, magnesium affects thyroid function, estrogen detoxification, blood sugar, stress hormones, and more. This is why we highly recommend magnesium as one of the best supplements for PCOS
. Plus, there is substantial evidence to support using magnesium supplements in treating and/or preventing migraine attacks (7
). If you suffer from migraines, we recommend taking around 400 milligrams of magnesium glycinate
per day. Additionally, aim to include magnesium-rich foods into your meals and snacks like pumpkin or chia seeds, almonds, cashews, and black beans.
CoQ10 is a vitamin-like compound critical for energy production inside the mitochondria (or “power plants”) of your cells. Your body produces CoQ10 in every cell. However, certain factors may lower your body’s ability to make enough to keep up with the demand. Taking CoQ10 is helpful for women with PCOS because it may lower inflammation, improve blood sugar levels, and boost fertility
). If you also suffer from migraines, supplementing with CoQ10 may reduce the number of migraines per month and migraine duration (10
). However, it’s important to take this supplement regularly as intermittent use may not produce the same results. You can purchase CoQ10
in our Root Shop.
Migraines and PCOS: Key Takeaways
Women are more likely to suffer from migraines than men. Plus, migraines and PCOS share many common root causes. For example, hormone imbalances, low serotonin levels, and insulin resistance may trigger migraines. You can prevent or reduce migraines in the context of PCOS by eating PFC balanced meals, optimizing sleep quality, reducing stress levels, and using supplements like magnesium and/or CoQ10.